UCSB’s Carsey-Wolf Center will host the “All in the…Modern Family” conference on April 27 at the Pollock Theater to explore the genre of scripted television comedies.
The free event — co-hosted by the Dept. of Film & Media Studies — examines the importance and evolution of televised shows over time and celebrates comedy’s cultural impact on society. The four-part seminar features major media industry figures such as “Friends” star Lisa Kudrow, “Modern Family” creator Steven Levitan and “Everybody Loves Raymond” executive producer Phil Rosenthal to discuss the creative processes behind such television shows.
According to Carsey-Wolf Center Executive Director Richard Hutton, the genre is continually growing in popularity.
“Over the years, scripted comedies have been given an obituary every decade,” Hutton said. “Someone always seems to think that they’re over. But it has proven to be an incredibly successful genre, and people have proved wrong every time. We should celebrate that success.”
The theater opens at 9:30 a.m. and sessions begin at 11:00 a.m. with “Why We Need Scripted Comedies.” The seminar will explore scripted comedies’ important role in society and what they indicate about the public.
The conference’s first panel — moderated by Pulitzer Prize-winning former LA Times television critic Howard Rosenberg — will feature Rosenthal.
Hutton said the television comedies serve as a window into modern society.
“The writers just want to be funny,” Hutton said. “They aren’t really thinking about story, character or social impact, but oftentimes these comedies end up having social impacts that reflect the hopes and anxiety of society. If you watch them, you really do see a lot of what is happening in our world.”
Sessions two and three focus primarily on the writing aspects of comedy. “Writers Room Workshop” features scriptwriters from notable television shows including “Cheers,” “M*A*S*H,” “Frasier,” “The Simpsons” and “Will and Grace” to discuss how writers create material.
The third session, “Elements of the Scripted Comedy,” provides brief presentations about the development process behind television comedies and features a presentation from Kudrow, best known for playing Phoebe on “Friends.” Kudrow will discuss the strategy behind web series comedies and the transition process for her show, “Web Therapy,” from the Internet to television.
Third-year theater major Zackery Humphreys said the sessions will provide professional insight for student writers.
“I don’t have much experience in writing comedy, but in my experience I’ve found it hard to write comedic things without serious undertones, or offending one group of people,” Humphreys said. “Also being a story driven person, I think comedy has less of an overarching storyline, so it’s harder to write. Hopefully in explaining their process the writers will explain how to write comedy successfully.”
According to Humphreys, scripted comedy shows’ success is partially attributable to their humorous social commentary.
“I think comedies are funny and interesting because they hint at such social aspects of life, we can relate to them and it mirrors our society,” Humphreys said. “We can be better because of them. That, and they are entertaining.”
The final session features a screening of the “Modern Family” pilot episode. Following the show, Levitan will discuss his role as its creator as well as the pilot episode’s relevance for the television comedy.
Hutton said the conference offers students involved in media writing a rare opportunity to learn from experts in the field.
“This is a unique event, and it’s happening at UCSB,” Hutton said. “These kinds of people are rarely, if ever, brought together. Television is an incredibly important form of media, and anyone who cares about media, which is the core of communication, should come to these things.”
A full schedule featuring times and lists of discussion panel guests is available at http://carseywolf.ucsb.edu/pr-all-in-the-modern-family.